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Festival's Guest of Honor a No-Show

This year's cool winter caused blooms to be late for this weekend's Lotus Festival in Echo Park.

July 08, 2006|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

There will be Asian and Pacific Islander artwork, music and food. There will be Chinese dragon boat races and a nighttime fireworks show set to the beat of taiko drummers.

All that will be missing from this weekend's Lotus Festival are lotus blossoms.

A cooler than normal winter is being blamed for causing lotus plants at Echo Park's lake north of downtown Los Angeles to grow slowly and bloom late this year.

"It's not up to me. Talk to the man up above -- ask Buddha," senior park gardener Philip Molina said with a grin as workers prepared for the two-day Asian cultural celebration that begins at noon today.

"Last year, we had a bumper crop -- the lotus were 5 feet high and spilling out of the lake onto the shore. But they didn't make it this year. Everybody's asking, 'What happened?' I tell them that nature just took a rest this year."

Actually, according to JPL climatologist William Patzert, nature's "biological clocks are out of whack" this year.

Unusually chilly temperatures in March and April and an unseasonably warm June has had an effect on more plants than just the lotus, he said.

March was nearly 5 1/2 degrees cooler than normal, and April was 3 degrees cooler.

June was the second-warmest on record in Los Angeles.

"Things that bloom in early summer definitely had a cool, late winter, and they're blooming later. The jacarandas bloomed late for that reason. Crape myrtles that always bloom in late August started blooming in June," Patzert said.

"We essentially went straight from winter to summer" and skipped spring, he said. "Everything is out of whack."

Lotus fans remember last year, though. Artist Liu Adamovitch, who was born in China, said thousands of pink lotus flowers danced across the northern edge of the Echo Park lake last year.

On Thursday, only 30 blossoms were visible to the Century City resident.

"Just have patience. Come back in a month," he suggested.

But as many as 150,000 people are expected this weekend.

The Lotus Festival has been staged by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks since 1972 at Echo Park because of its proximity to Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Koreatown and Filipino communities -- and because of its lake's underwater bed of lotus plants.

Legend says the lotus were introduced to the lake in the 1920s by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, who collected them on a missionary trip conducted in conjunction with her Angelus Temple. An Echo Park landmark, the temple is across the street from the park.

These days, the northern corner of the 15-acre lake is reserved for the lotus. A concrete wall beneath the water keeps the plants corralled in about 3 feet of water. The rest of the lake is about 8 feet deep.

"The murkier the water the better it is for the lotus," Molina said. "The turtles, the decay -- lotus like that. Years ago, we used to cut the plants below the waterline each fall. But now we don't walk in there -- the roots are too delicate."

But the roots are also considered a delicacy. And that's led to unauthorized harvesting.

"Once, I saw some of the big leaves out in the water shaking. I looked closely and saw a lady in the water with a machete cutting them," Molina said. "People use lotus for medical remedies as well as food."

On the other side of the lake, Paloma Adamovitch said the lotus is as beneficial for the soul as it is for the body.

"Fresh lotus seeds are awesome. They are soft and fleshy and taste like almonds, but sweeter. You can make soup from its roots," she explained as her husband -- who was adopted by a Russian family after fleeing communist China -- photographed this year's sparse blossoms.

"The lotus is a spiritual flower. It nourishes man's basic need for beauty. You can see creation in the plants. You can catch rain and drink it from its large leaves. You feel so calm when you watch the leaves bend in the wind. If you're having a bad day, you can come here and the lotus calms you down."

She agreed with Molina's description of the murky water.

"The dirtier the water, the nicer the flowers," Adamovitch said.

Echo Park residents Mark and Alma Mullen said they were eagerly anticipating the festival, which each year highlights the culture of a different Asian or Pacific country. This year's event salutes the Philippines.

That's where she's originally from, said Alma Mullen -- who admitted she will notice the missing lotus at this year's festival. "Last year they were so high and so beautiful," she said. "It was awesome."

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